I am an introvert. The idea of attending a function with a crush of chattering people is about as much fun as sticking needles in my eyes. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not shy. It’s just that I get my strength from quiet times away from people.
So how do I deal with the inevitable challenge of attending networking events? While it’s still not my favorite thing to do, it’s become easier over the years. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned.
- Set a goal of talking to three or four people. Networking isn’t a competition to see who can collect the most business cards. What’s important is to develop relationships that last. Decide ahead of time the minimum number of people you’ ll talk to before leaving the event. Over time you might gain the confidence to eventually set a higher goal.
- Start small. Do one or two functions a month and choose smaller groups where you won’t feel overwhelmed.
- Think of it as building relationships. You want to take the time to have conversations with people in order to create some long term connections that can be mutually beneficial.
- Be helpful. Remember it’s not about selling yourself. It’s about helping people. Perhaps it’s making a connection or recommendation for someone. Or maybe it’s sending the person a useful article.
- Pretend you’ve organized the event. Whenever I organize an event, I feel great. As host I’m free to make sure people are comfortable, make introductions, and see to the loners in the crowd. Now I take this mindset with me when I attend a networking event. The mental shift from guest to host frees me up and I enjoy myself more. Try it. It works!
- Seek out those who are on their own. Remember you’re there to be helpful. What better way to help than to strike up a conversation with someone who looks lost and uncomfortable. The person’s probably a fellow introvert!
- Break the ice. It’s not important what you say. It’s small talk. Comment on the weather, food, the crowd, or the season. Don’t keep the small talk going too long. If there’s some rapport, then shift to more substantial questions.
- Ask questions and listen. This should be pretty easy for personal historians. Ask open ended questions like, “What brings you here today? How long have you been with this organization? What do you like about your work? ” Listen carefully and focus on your guest. Don’t let your gaze wander over the crowd.
- Play to your strengths. You’re an introvert. Most introverts are pretty good listeners. Don’t pretend to be an extrovert. You’ll look phoney and feel horrible in the process.
- Don’t sell. People don’t come to networking events to be pitched products or services. It’s annoying. When asked what you do, have a succinct and clear statement about how your service helps people. It might be something like, “I’m a personal historian. I record and preserve family stories. My clients are often sons and daughters who want to record their parents’ lives but are too busy to do it themselves.”
- Moving on. We introverts can find it difficult to break away from a conversation. But really it’s not that hard. Most who attend a networking function expect people to mingle. No need to make an excuse. When you know it’s time to move on simple say, “I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I really appreciate what you have to say about…[fill in the blank]. May I have your business card?”
- Reward yourself. Before your networking gig think of a way to reward yourself for stepping up to the plate. Maybe it’s playing hooky one afternoon and seeing a movie. Or perhaps it’s going for a relaxing massage. You know what works for you. Just be sure to do it!
What do you do to make networking less painful? Leave a comment. Love to hear from you!
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